One of the more insidious aspects of Israel's military dictatorship in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is its blanket monitoring of Palestinian social networks and other forms of communication via the internet. This often leads to arrests being made. A recent report by 7amleh, the Arab Centre for Social Media Advancement, names 21 Palestinians who have been imprisoned or detained by Israel for their posts on Facebook.
An ongoing narrative popular among Israeli propagandists in the past few years blames the nebulous concept of "incitement" for the phenomenon of Palestinians fighting back against Israel's brutal occupation forces. A Mossad proxy organisation misleadingly known as the "Israel Law Centre" (aka Shurat HaDin) has even launched lawsuits against Facebook for supposedly facilitating terrorism. A US federal court threw the billion-dollar case out in May.
Last year, Israel's anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) minister Gilad Erdan claimed that Israeli blood was "on the hands of Facebook" and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Shurat HaDin even organised a campaign to raise money for a billboard that would have been erected outside Zuckerberg's home
The real reason that, since October 2015, many (often young) Palestinians have taken it upon themselves to attack Israeli occupation forces and settlers is far simpler than "incitement": occupation is violence; Palestinian violence is, therefore, almost by definition, a reaction to the violence of the occupation. It is a response to the far greater violence imposed by Israel and its racist military dictatorship in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
International law has long stated that people living under military occupation or colonial domination have the right to fight against it using all legitimate means, including armed struggle. UN General Assembly resolution 3246 of 29 November 1974, for example, "Reaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples' struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle."
The same resolution explicitly includes the Palestinian people as being an example of people living under such "colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation." Hence, as long as Israel's violent colonial occupation of Palestine continues, resistance to it is inevitable, including armed resistance.
Nonetheless, the armed wings of the organised Palestinian political factions have been inactive since the last Israeli offensive against Gaza in 2014. During the hostilities, Palestine's Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — acted in a defensive capacity, striking exclusively at Israeli soldiers engaged in the attack on Gaza. The mostly-young Palestinians involved in attacks since October 2015 have acted spontaneously and of their own volition. Their acts have come as responses to the every-day violence that they endure at the hands of the Israeli occupation, and are almost certainly not the result of "incitement" online. Israel's refusal to recognise the basic reality of the situation (even disputing the legitimacy of the word "occupation" in the West Bank) means that it also refuses to accept this fact.
As a result, one of Israel's more recent scapegoats has been "incitement" on Facebook. The fact that Israel operates a military dictatorship in the occupied territories tells us all we need to know; it has no inclination to allow Palestinians any freedom of speech. The result is that Israel has arrested hundreds of Palestinians for the crime of "incitement" since October 2015.
The new 7amleh report, Hashtag Palestine 2016, details examples of the 21 Palestinians arrested by the Israeli army due to Facebook posts. They include Samah Dweik, a 25-year-old Palestinian journalist arrested in Jerusalem who spent six months in Israeli jails for the "crime" of expressing support for Palestinians who had been killed by Israel. At the time of her arrest, Dweik had been covering the arrest of a young girl who was accused of attempting to stab a soldier.
Also detailed is Mohammad Amarneh, a Palestinian teenager arrested and detained for three months without trial. A military "judge" decided to intern Amarneh on the basis of unspecified crimes against "state security" supposed to have been committed by him in a Facebook post. The teenager denied the allegations and said that he did not even have a Facebook account.
The report also lists some of the most popular and influential social media campaigns that Palestinians launched in 2016. The biggest, in terms of interactions and results on search engine listings, was #FBCensorsPalestine.
This was a campaign which raised awareness of Facebook's apparent censorship of Palestinian content. Israeli ministers had met with a delegation from Facebook and submitted 158 requests to remove "inciting content" and the company allegedly complied with 95 per cent of them. After the Palestinian campaign, Facebook denied signing this agreement.
There was, though, no doubt that the Facebook accounts of two influential Palestinian journalists had been suspended; they were later restored. Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Facebook apologised and said that the suspensions had been a mistake. "The pages were removed in error and restored as soon as we were able to investigate," a spokesperson said. "Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong. We're very sorry about this mistake."
The accounts belonged to the administrators of Quds and Shehab News Agency, which together then had more than 11 million Facebook "likes", making them two of the most widely read Palestinian publications on the internet. Facebook should not be allowed to get away with acting as a proxy for Israeli military
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